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Lame 'Santa' lands with a thud

Tim Allen, left, Spencer Breslin, and Martin Short star in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause."
Tim Allen, left, Spencer Breslin, and Martin Short star in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause."
Joseph Lederer, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE — * 1/2 — Tim Allen, Martin Short; rated G (nothing offensive); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16 (Sandy); Century Theatres 16 (South Salt Lake); Megaplex 12 at the Gateway; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons; Megaplex 20 at the District; Red Carpet 5-Star and Gateway 8 Cinemas; Westates Holladay Center Cinemas 6.

Down the chimney St. Nick comes with a thud in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," the needless third — and hopefully last — time Tim Allen will suit up as the jolly old elf.

There were reasonably cute, clever gimmicks behind 1994's "The Santa Clause" and 2002's "The Santa Clause 2," but the two or three feeble premises behind the new sequel are as appetizing as yellow snow.

Allen looks silly, tired and bored this time in the fat suit and beard, while the movie presents the irritating Martin Short as Jack Frost, nipping at your nerves as Santa's nemesis in a bid to take over and (gasp!) commercialize Christmas.

The side stories to this dreary showdown — impending childbirth for Mrs. Claus, whom Santa wooed and won in the first sequel, and a North Pole visit by her parents — are slim strands of tinsel that pad the main action without enlivening it.

The real crime against Christmas is the ho, ho, ho-hum factor in "The Santa Clause 3." The movie's just not funny, with a flatulent-reindeer gag about as much wit as director Michael Lembeck, and writers Ed Decter and John J. Strauss, who collaborated on "The Santa Clause 2," can muster.

As Christmas approaches, Allen's Santa is more frantic than ever with a baby that could arrive at any moment. Her hubby's so busy that Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) feels neglected, wishing she had some eye-level family around rather than tiny elves.

Santa decides to fly up his in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret) to keep her company, disguising the North Pole as a Canadian town because they're not in on the knowledge that their daughter married Kris Kringle.

Elves uttering "Eh" and other Canadian cliches quickly grow tiresome, though "Star Trek" fans may get a few chuckles out of Michael Dorn (the fierce Klingon Worf), who plays the snoozy Sandman helping Santa smuggle his in-laws to the North Pole.

As the family arrives, Santa's dealing with Short's mischievous Frost, doing penance as a North Pole helper after violating the rules of the Council of Legendary Figures, including Kevin Pollak as Cupid, Aisha Tyler as Mother Nature, Peter Boyle as Father Time and Jay Thomas as the Easter Bunny.

Frost manipulates Santa into invoking "the escape clause," which transports them back to the moment in the original film when Allen was a mortal who accidentally kills Santa then puts on the red coat and becomes the fat dude's heir apparent.

With Frost hijacking the duds, the movie turns into a lame cross between "The Year Without a Santa Claus" and "It's a Wonderful Life" as Allen's character learns what the world would be like without him as Santa.

Even before Frost co-opts Christmas and turns Santa's home into a cheesy cross between a Disney theme park and a third-rate Vegas casino, the North Pole set this time looks gaudy and cheap, especially compared to the whimsical Santa land in Hollywood's last big Christmas fantasy, Will Ferrell's 2003 charmer "Elf."

Most of Santa's gang is back, including Eric Lloyd as Santa's son from his first marriage, Wendy Crewson as his ex-wife, Judge Reinhold as her new hubby and Liliana Mumy as their daughter.

Absent is David Krumholtz as the head elf from the first two movies. He's replaced as head elf by "Santa Clause 2" co-star Spencer Breslin, who's almost as annoying as Short's mugging, simpering Frost.

Luckily, there's an easy escape clause for this sour holiday piffle: Stay home and watch "Elf" again.

"The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" is rated G. Running time: 90 minutes.